WILMINGTON, NC (WWAY) -- The 19-year-old accused of huffing behind the wheel at Wrightsville Beach likely won't be punished by the court system for six months to a year. Randi Petrolino did not show up for her first appearance in court today, but she didn't miss much. Prosecutors are waiting for her blood results to come back from the SBI lab in Raleigh, which could take up to a year.
Police say Petrolino huffed dust cleaner while driving over the Wrightsville Beach draw bridge in May, blacked out and hit a tree with two passengers in the car. Investigators sent her blood sample to Raleigh because it's a drug-related case. In certain instances, blood samples can be analyzed at the hospital, but it's extremely expensive and does not carry as much weight in court.
"It takes a little bit more time, but when you're trying to get to the truth and seek justice it's more important to be right than to be quick," New Hanover County District Attorney Ben David said.
That's why nearly all drug cases are sent to the state capital to be analyzed by certified lab agents. But the SBI is bogged down with DWI cases that require its agents to testify in court.
"A recent United States Supreme Court case made it much more difficult for this evidence to come in without an agent coming all the way from raleigh to do the testifying, and that means there's a backlog simply because they can't be in 100 counties at once," David said.
To help cut down on the backlog, the Wilmington Police Department got a $100,000 machine last fall designed to analyze blood samples and get more immediate results. It can test for alcohol, but not controlled substances. So David says he's working with local, state and federal law enforcement agencies to open a regional lab that can test for drug-related cases in our area.
"We're looking at the best way in a long-term basis to try to locate a lab here in this area that might serve in a multi-county region and avoid some of the back-log that comes from having to send all of our cases to raleigh," he said. David hopes to get a regional SBI lab here in the next four years.
Petrolino's case has been continued to September 13, where prosecutors say it will likely be continued again until the blood results come back. She's scheduled to appear in court tomorrow on a separate shoplifting charge.